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Ogaga Ifowodo: Slipping a Stone in the Sling of Prose and Poetry

Ogaga Ifowodo, courtesy
Ogaga Ifowodo, courtesy

The name Ogaga Ifowodo, PhD., is familiar to many, not because of its cadence, but because of the sometimes public struggles that the self-identified “radical progressive” has committed his life to in his bid to elevate the human condition in Nigeria and wherever his “well-adjusted capacity for anger…and laughter” takes him. Ifowodo, who was until 2014 on the MFA Faculty at Texas State University, USA, is a poet and author of The Oil Lamp, Madiba, Homeland and History, Trauma, and Healing in Postcolonial Narratives. He is widely anthologised and has been featured in critical international journals and newspapers. A popular columnist, lawyer, activist, and frontline member of the Civil Liberties Organisation during Nigeria’s worst military years, he was detained in the late 1990s by the dictator Sani Abacha. Dr. Ogaga Ifowodo received his MFA and PhD. from Cornell University. He is a fellow of the Iowa Writing Program and was a recipient in 1998 of the PEN USA Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award and the Poets of All Nations Award. His books have also won the Association of Nigerian Authors Awards twice. Naza Amaeze Okoli interviewed him for


Naza Amaeze Okoli: You said in a recent interview (on your decision to come back to Nigeria after more than a decade abroad) that “rather than stay in the margins in America” you would “return home to do something”. We will talk about the “something” you came to do, but before that, can you elaborate on why someone like you would have been living in the margins in America, in spite of your first class education in a system that’s been touted to be a mish-mash of (and that thrives on) diversity?

Ogaga Ifowodo: Obviously, education is not what makes a citizen. And you can’t have any civic life worth the name without the benefit of citizenship rights. So no matter how well educated, at home in Nigeria or as further complemented at an Ivy league university in the United States, I was bound to be, at best, an august visitor welcome to all the civilities of my hosts but never with the rights of the owner of the house. Unless, of course, I chose to become an American. But even then, patriotism or love of country, loyalty to a fatherland, is a feeling fed, I would say, by the spirit of a place—by the land, water, air and culture of a place. It is not transferred automatically upon naturalisation. In a new, adopted country, one may develop that feeling after a while, or by a radical act of will. But I guess that the real reason for my feeling of being an outsider bound to remain in the margins of American civic and cultural life is that I came to the US already fully formed as a political animal, to evoke the Aristotelian term. For all of America’s touted cultural diversity as a nation of immigrants—once the original owners of the land had been wiped out and Africans brought in as slaves to work the land to prosperity—I couldn’t see myself becoming as much of a full-fledged citizen participant in the socio-political life (especially the political) of the United States as I could as a Nigerian. To acquire first class citizenship rights, I would have to undergo a radical mental shift, yet, as the case of Barack Obama has shown, my right to equal participation and aspiration to the highest reaches of civic life would still be questioned—in fact, I couldn’t even aspire to be president of the United States. And now the king of the birther movement that would send Obama back to Kenya and ban Muslims from entering the United States is the leading Republican candidate for president. Which, of course, is not to overlook the phenomenal fact of Obama becoming president in the first place, or being re-elected to a second term. But I could never become an American in the way that Obama is.

Naza Amaeze Okoli: The “something” that you returned home to do…that’s political intervention, right? You aspired unsuccessfully in 2014 to represent your constituency in the House of Representatives. Why did you think it was time to get in the mud that is politics in Nigeria?

Ogaga Ifowodo: Because until good people—by which I mean all who would serve the nation rather than themselves, all whose sole motivation is to raise the quality of life of the people—deign to dirty their sparkling white clothes in the mud of politics, there will be no end to the lamentation of poor governance in Nigeria. It means that the good people would be condemned to suffer under the rule of opportunist politicians who are only too glad to perpetuate the notion of politics as a dirty game meant exclusively for their likes who don’t care about dirtying their clothes, even though they tend to dress in white a lot, perhaps as a blinding mask for their thieving, bloody minds. The point is that while “good people” stand aloof and admire their clean clothes, the opportunist politicians who are happy to be pigs swirl in the muck and emerge as our leaders, shaping policy and squandering resources in our name! More specifically, however, I believe that the progressive forces, in particular those who fought to end military dictatorship in Nigeria under the banner of the “June 12” struggle, made a costly mistake in 1999 when they turned their nose in the air and refused to participate in General Abdulsalami’s transition programme, thereby surrendering the terrain mostly to all manner of apologists and beneficiaries of military dictatorship. Which is why arch enemies of democracy like General Obasanjo and Brigadier David Mark emerged as the “visionaries” of the purportedly post-military era. The result is that other than a general respect for the civil liberties of the people, Nigeria plummeted in human development terms. The only way out of the acute crisis of governance in Nigeria, as far as electoral politics is concerned, is for citizens who would put country above self to be willing to enter the political arena and try to recover government from opportunist politicians whose sole motivation is to use public office as an open sesame to self-enrichment.

Naza Amaeze Okoli: You have a well-established history of activism, right from your university days through the years of military rule in Nigeria. You’ve been harassed, imprisoned and denounced, along with some of your fellow writers. Do you feel bitter or privileged?

Ogaga Ifowodo: Certainly not bitter! Especially as I survived to tell the tale—which I did in fact begin to tell in my detention memoirs that is half complete, parts of which have been published. Regrettably, I have been unable to complete it due to several major preoccupations, including my failed bid to enter public service through politics for a more direct contribution towards salvaging our beleaguered country, but I intend to return to it very soon. And I might even say that I feel privileged to have been deemed an enemy by the true enemies of Nigeria—it meant I was on the good side! I would much rather go down in history as a victim than as a collaborator and beneficiary of tyranny.

Naza Amaeze Okoli: How did your colleagues – those who were also involved in the struggle – react when they learned that you were going into politics?

History, Trauma, and Healing in Postcolonial Narratives
History, Trauma, and Healing in Postcolonial Narratives

Ogaga Ifowodo: They were mostly encouraging but hardly optimistic, given the very primitive nature of what you and I know passes for politics in Nigeria. You have to have loads of money with which to buy delegates at the primaries, not to speak of mounting a credible campaign that would make anyone take you seriously in the first place. Of course the main election is another kettle of fish altogether if you happen to get the nomination. Some of my activist colleagues had attempted running for office before and had suffered the same fate as I would later suffer. Femi Falana, for instance, who tried to be governor of Ekiti State; Otive Igbuzor who burnt his hands and his paltry savings trying to be governor of my state, Delta, and of course everybody knows of Pat Utomi’s aspiration to the same office. Clement Nwankwo who, I believe, tried to become a senator. Then my good friend Sylvester Odion-Akhaine—and I’m just mentioning a few here. A word about Odion-Akhaine. We are both products of the student and human rights movement, were active in the Campaign for Democracy and were detained by General Abacha at almost precisely the same period. Were it down to popularity and acceptability in his constituency alone, he would have won his bid for the House of Representatives in Edo State hands down. But he was thwarted by money just as I was. On the other hand, Babafemi Ojudu, who later became a senator and with whom I was a co-prisoner of Abacha at the 15A Awolowo Road and Inter-Centre (Interrogation Centre) facilities of the State Security Service (SSS) in Ikoyi-Lagos, until I was moved to Ikoyi Prison, was all encouragement. He was virtually alone in the National Assembly, he said, and the country needed as many radical progressives in the legislature, in government, as possible. He literally begged me to contest. In fact, I can say that his was the most enthusiastic endorsement of my decision to enter the fray by seeking a seat in the House of Representatives.

In general, the reaction was positive, even if it was always dampened by the reality of our political barbarism. For what I think is more relevant is the attitude of the people, the so-called electorate. They have been so impoverished and dehumanized that the concept of democracy and their own crucial role in electing for themselves responsible leaders has been almost totally lost. That, in addition to the fact that they see politicians enter office and become overnight millionaires, has turned them into what I would call cash-and-carry voters. They have become thoroughly cynical and their own worst enemies. They have become almost wholly converted to the poisonous notion of money politics and are ready to sell their vote, their political birthright, for a mess of porridge. Sometimes, for even the mere promise of it. Thus, although everyone agreed that I was far and above the superior candidate, and wondered why I even had to undergo a primary for my party’s ticket, many still uttered loudly the self-defeating claim that I had no money and so could not win. As if the reason why, according to them, I couldn’t win had nothing to do with them! The result of this mindset, as we know, is that any opportunist, any speculator, in short any criminal seeking political office as a means of self-enrichment who comes with enough cash to buy votes, especially at the primaries, would trounce the popular candidate whose only asset, most often, is his or her integrity and track record of commitment to the public good. In my case, my opponent who had been arrested two days before the primary election by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on allegations of obtaining by false pretence or advance fee fraud—“419” as we know it in Nigeria—was miraculously released in the afternoon of the primary. He rode in triumphantly, waving to the delegates from a pick-up truck in the middle of a long police convoy that escorted him into the venue of the election! He had strategically spent money to buy votes, and in order to buy the confidence of those who might not have been “settled” yet he made tall promises: he would purchase a car for every ward chairman who delivered the 26 delegates’ votes under his control, he would fly every ward youth leader to Dubai, he would give each delegate that voted for him cash after the election, etc. Long story short, he beat me hands down, only to disappear and never be seen again in the constituency—that is the whole of Isokoland which is one federal constituency—right from the day after the election. Which confirmed the suspicions that many had voiced, to the effect that he was merely a front for the opposition candidate who had been in the House of Representatives for 12 years and was very unpopular and certain to lose to me in a free and fair election, but first thing was to stop me from getting the ticket. True or not, my primary opponent’s conduct warranted the speculation. Well, he disappeared after snagging the ticket and the party was in a bind, so I was asked to return from the US where I had gone to lick my wounds with the promise of substituting me for the ticket, but, unfortunately, the party failed to do so having dallied too long waiting for my victorious “419” opponent to show up and campaign for the office he had sought!

I should add that another consequence of this mindset is that the people display a funny case of Stockholm syndrome. As you might be aware, the good people of Benue South senatorial district thought that David Mark, a three-term senator and president of the Senate to boot, couldn’t afford to pay for his nomination form for a fourth term. So they contributed money and bought it for him. President Jonathan was also a beneficiary of the Nigerian people’s generosity in that regard as well. In his enthusiastic endorsement of my bid for the House of Representatives, Dr Olatunji Dare called this the Matthew Effect in his column “Nigerian Politics and the Matthew Effect.” The idea that politics is a money game reserved only for the rich, who became rich in the first place at our expense, led to the incumbent and my potential opponent in the main election—then the deputy majority leader of the House—laughing me to scorn. His campaign team posted the newspaper reports of my fund-raising effort all over Isoko social media platforms, the message being that I was unqualified for the office of representative of the Isoko people because I had no money and was openly begging for pennies! In my fund-raising letter, I had asked for a minimum donation of N10,000. It took some sharp remonstrations and lectures by affronted readers before my opponent realised he had betrayed astonishing ignorance or opportunism, or both, and then claimed to have actually only been out to help me with free publicity!

Naza Amaeze Okoli: You and writers from the Lagos-Ibadan axis used to meet regularly in small and large groups to discuss poetry. Then many of you travelled out of the country. Did the dialogue continue abroad? Did you sustain the regular interactions, or did you evolve new ways to read and react to each other’s works?

Ogaga Ifowodo
Ogaga Ifowodo

Ogaga Ifowodo: Those were the days! Unfortunately, the dispersal took its toll. Nothing can really be a perfect substitute for the face-to-face meetings, the animated discussions of the poets and writers one admired or was reading, or of a fellow poet’s newly minted poem with a line or two one envied. In the early stages, there were efforts to replicate the “salon” or “bukka” experience, so to speak, in online chat groups. “Krazitivity,” a virtual community of Nigerian writers and culture enthusiasts, was one such group—mooted by Sola Osofisan but so named by Kola Ade-Odutola, if I remember correctly. It lived up to the billing for a while. Very hearty, even if often contentious, acrimonious even, discussions took place there and for a year or two after it was formed it fostered a good sense of community among Nigerian writers abroad. But the Internet is an unruly place and without physical presence which can serve as a moderating factor in passionate discussions—if not of all inter-personal relations—many a conversation tended to go off track and lead to unintended, and perhaps, quite often, intended, slights accompanied by wounded egos. And gradually, some of the more engaged participants became passive or quit the forum altogether. I was one of those, though I have to say that I am hardly an ardent citizen of the brave new world of social media. At that point, Krazitivity was the only listserve I belonged to and even though today I have been signed on to and belong to more listserves than I know or can count, I am not active in any. I can’t tell if it returned to its original vision of a site for literary and cultural discussion but I know that it is still active with perhaps an even wider membership. The truth, however, is that even at home, social media chat rooms have almost wholly supplanted actual writers meetings. That, together with the decline of print journalism, the death of quality coverage and reviews in the newspapers—many of which have in fact done away with their art desks and are content with merely reporting any cultural event with a news quotient—means that the discussions such as take place in ether lack focus or specific reference to what is taking place at home. This situation is made worse by the fact that most of those doing the writing that gets noticed are abroad, are being validated through publishing and prizes abroad. The context, understandably but sadly, becomes that of global or world writers, a status that some of the writers themselves seem to crave. The new way of catching some of the buzz around it is online. And through private conversations, which you will agree is not the same thing. Those meetings you referred to were quite often opportunities for continuing debates that began or were still raging on the pages of the Times Review of Literature and Ideas, edited by Afam Akeh (who was one of those to leave very early on for the UK) and the Post Express Literary Supplement, edited by Nduka Otiono, now in Canada but in his case The Post Express had long folded before he joined the “brain drain train.” I must confess, though, that I haven’t kept up with the online publications of new writing as much as I ought to.

Naza Amaeze Okoli: As a poet, you constantly run the risk of having everything you pen seen from multiple perspectives and given different interpretations. Does it bother you that a fair percentage of the time, readers of poetry give your poems interpretations that you never intended, interpretations that are often the transference of their state of mind or background?

Ogaga Ifowodo: Not at all. It comes with the territory. As long as the readings are not perverse. Actually, the perverse readings present the least cause for worry. Alongside any misreadings or misinterpretations are, quite often, very insightful ones that can also surprise the poet in a pleasant way.

Naza Amaeze Okoli: You completed an MFA programme in Creative Writing in the US, which was your primary reason for travelling abroad in 2001. But you were already an accomplished poet before you applied for the programme. If you don’t object, can you put the “value of the MFA degree” debate to rest by telling us how the programme benefited Ogaga Ifowodo and is a good idea for any up-and-coming writer to pursue?

Ogaga Ifowodo: I think that the correct attitude to MFA programmes is fairly established by now. You can’t teach talent or gift or vision; that is what the writer brings as an innate quality. But you can teach, or at the very least, inculcate the habit of greater reflection, what, borrowing from W.B. Yeats, I would call casting a cold eye on the work. MFA programmes help to ingrain the habit of striving harder to communicate in a more effective way whatever experience, feeling, observation, idea—the “what” or reason for being of the poem—is. Another thing that they do well is exposing workshop members in a more direct way to different sensibilities and manifestoes. MFA programmes serve then as a nurturing ground, a community of accomplished poets (the teachers) and budding poets (the students) with the same goal: that of helping to make the poem or story or fiction excerpt a much better piece of writing than it was when it was presented at the weekly workshop. Above all, I think they succeed best as training grounds for sensitive readers of creative writing. And this is how I benefited from the two years I spent getting an MFA at Cornell. I should add though that, ironically, the doctoral programme which I enrolled in at the end of the MFA served a similar role, even if the emphasis was on critical and theoretical readings.

Naza Amaeze Okoli: You’re increasingly writing prose. Is this a natural progression from the fact that your poetry has considerable narrative elements? A take-away from the MFA programme? Or you’re just revealing a side of you that’s always been there, but has never received as much attention?

oillampOgaga Ifowodo: Definitely more of the latter. I was in the poetry programme during the MFA, so that has nothing to do with what appears to be my recent turn to fiction. I have always been keen on narrative. No writer who grew up in a mostly oral culture can fail to have a big narrative bone in his or her body! And the evidence, as you rightly point out, is there in my poetry which has a strong narrative element. I happen to also believe that the best lyrics are those that are composed on what may be called a narrative riff or note, that are served by a narrative undertone. You know, that underlying sense of sequence, however faint or disguised. It might interest you to know that I conceived of and wrote the very first (abominable) draft of “The Treasonable Parrot,” my first ever short story, nearly two full decades before it was published in AGNI in 2010! I think I came to a fuller appreciation of my abiding interest in fiction—and non-fiction, I should also add—while working for eight years as the project officer in charge of Annual Reports at the Civil Liberties Organisation. In that capacity, I researched and wrote the annual reports on the state of human rights in Nigeria. It dawned on me that what I was doing was essentially story-telling. And then I have always written newspaper op-eds since 1988 when I had my inaugural outing in The Guardian in a joint piece with the Pidgin English playwright, Tunde Fatunde. I think that all good writing is driven by the poser And then? or What comes next, anticipated by that good old storytelling formula, Once upon a time. But, really, it shouldn’t be any surprise that a poet also writes fiction or is a playwright. The creative impulse wells from one spring and the course that the waters take depends on the peculiar terrain they must navigate. In any case a poet must also be a good reader of prose. And I found it remarkable that the living poet I admire most, Derek Walcott, said he had not realised just how much great prose he had soaked up over the years until he began writing Omeros, his acclaimed epic of the Caribbean—and magnum opus, in my opinion. But for my current preoccupations, I would have finished my first volume of short fiction; I am, however, very close to completing it.

Naza Amaeze Okoli: Your poetry is often praised for its rich imagery… but it is hardly ever about the happy side of life. Would you describe yourself as an angry poet?

Ogaga Ifowodo: No, not an angry poet but merely one attuned to the realities of his time. My primary setting and audience, Nigeria and Africa, are not exactly the happiest patches on earth, never mind that nonsensical survey some time ago that named Nigerians the happiest people on the planet. In any case, neither has our world lately been a happy place. Anger does have its place; though—it can be a therapeutic emotion. It can even be a spring to positive action, though of course to negative action as well. All humans, but poets in particular—as the “unacknowledged legislators of the world, or perhaps we should edit Shelley this late by changing “world” to “word,” after all, in the beginning, one famous book of beginnings tells us, was the word!—must retain at all times a healthy capacity for anger at the seemingly endless capacity of humans to perpetuate their stupidities, though I have in mind the stupidities of those in power who specialise in ruining our lives. Writers should retain at all times a well-adjusted capacity for anger—to be accompanied by laughter, I must add—at the imbecilities and betrayals of politics and power, given the immeasurable harm that is often the result.

Naza Amaeze Okoli: Many of our finest writers today live outside Nigeria. Is there something about Nigeria that stifles creativity?

madibaOgaga Ifowodo: No doubt. Start with the near total collapse of education. How can the mind create if it cannot be nurtured? Moreover, most of those who fled did so as an existentialist imperative. At the very basic level, you have to be alive to write. The massive wave of immigrants to Europe still unfolding before our very eyes underlines the primacy of survival. Earlier, you asked about the convivial atmosphere in which writers thrived in the Nigeria of the 80s, before the exodus to Europe and North America began. And in my response, I mentioned the dearth of the cultural infrastructure that was a powerful backdrop to that fecund atmosphere. A writer needs informed readers, a deserving audience, and increasingly that audience—which includes that constituted by the cultural infrastructure of good publishing, newspaper and magazine editors and reviewers, etc.—has been decimated. And as a result, the Nigerian writer at home is more and more, as the saying goes, like a fish out of water. Yet, ironically, this very same situation is the manure of creativity. So we end up with the paradox of having all the stories to tell and all the inspiration to tell them but with the most inclement environment for doing the actual telling in a lasting or noticeable way, unless we flee from home!

Naza Amaeze Okoli: You write essentially about Nigeria even as a US resident. Do you feel bound by duty to represent your country and culture in your writing?

Ogaga Ifowodo: Not quite. I don’t see myself as an ambassador plenipotentiary—to use that grandiloquent designation that was very popular in our so-called Second Republic of 1979-1983—for Nigeria. I just find that I am passionately committed to the project of making a nation out of the colonial contraption bequeathed to us by the British who clearly had no intention of ever giving up their prized possession in Africa but were stampeded, after how the imperialist project in India ended, into an arrangement that would perpetuate their imperial interest under the flag of nominal independence. Maybe my fixation on Nigeria is also a product of my formation as a politically conscious individual, of my active involvement in the student movement, and then the human rights and democracy movement after graduation from university and the law school. Unfortunately, we squandered our best chance to make a nation out of imperialist rubble when that tyrant with a smile, General Ibrahim Babangida, annulled the June 12, 1993 election that defied ethnic and religious cleavages supposed to be the insoluble problems of Nigeria. The result is that we are still left with what I have called elsewhere “The Federal Republic of No-Man’s Land.” In my view, getting Nigeria, and by extension Africa, right is a matter of first principle, a priority project. It is, if you like, something of the Joycean project, through his character Stephen Daedalus, of helping to create the uncharted destiny of the Black race, which must begin with Nigeria, given its place in the black world. But I suppose I also allow myself that privilege of focussing almost exclusively on Nigeria and Africa because I have not found the need to explain Europe or America, literarily, to myself and my fellow country men and women or to Europeans and Americans. As a child of colonialism, I think I know enough of Europe and America and how they have shaped my history and present predicament to concern myself more about how to undo the harm they have caused me. If Europe and America feature in my writing, it is only for analytical purposes, or as a backdrop.

Naza Amaeze Okoli: People outside Africa often speak of the continent as if it were a country. I think this affects our literature as well. For example, in Nigeria, ‘African literature’ appears to be a more dominant term than ‘Nigerian literature’. Do you think this is because Nigerian literature is yet to evolve its own quality or direction?

Ogaga Ifowodo: Absolutely not. How can a literature that produced the first black Nobel laureate, gave Chinua Achebe to the world, not to mention a long list of other major and minor affirmations, and that remains as vibrant as ever, be said to have failed to evolve in quality and direction? I think the problem is that the centre of value allocation—in other words, of critical assessment and classification—has never quite been in Nigeria, or Africa for that matter. And the fact that the literature of note is invariably that written in the former coloniser’s language, that is English, tends to perpetuate a certain lingering imperialist attitude of not according national specificity to Nigerian—and, for that matter, Kenyan, or Ghanaian (just to mention only three)—literature. After all, these countries weren’t countries or nation-states before the advent of colonialism. As nation-states, they are creations of colonialism, and until independence leads to a true decolonisation of the cultural sphere—and I don’t mean this in the manner of a vulgar cultural nationalism—I think we would be waiting in vain for the West to accord us specificity. That is what Ngugi wa Thiongo means when he calls for moving the centre of African cultural discourse. To the rest of the world, to the assumed but effective centre of politics and culture, it is far easier for Nigerian literature to be grouped under the amorphous label of African literature. Quite frankly, though, I don’t particularly care about this problem. Nigerian literature will still be Nigerian literature whether or not readers outside Africa recognise it as such. I think we concede too much to others, the power of naming and so of conferring value, if we expect those who have the least stake in our cultural history to accord us literary subjectivity, so to speak.

Naza Amaeze Okoli: What is your impression of the newer generations of Nigerian writers – especially those most active on Social Media?

homelandOgaga Ifowodo: I have to be honest with you and say that I don’t follow writing on the Internet very much. I guess that at heart, I am still very much old-fashioned about my way of consuming literature: in print. My forays into ether are mostly for the purposes of e-mail, catching up on the news on the go, the obligatory first-order research, posting my newspaper columns to Facebook and WhatsApp (I’m not tweeting yet!) and keeping up to date with Arsenal football club! But from the new writing I have read in print, I can say that a good deal of it is top rate, just as much of it ought not to have been published or printed, but that is not saying anything new. As for the good writing, the lament is that it is mostly being written, published and validated abroad before it comes home by way of local reprinting. And that again harks back to a subject we have already discussed.

Naza Amaeze Okoli: How best can a writer serve a country like Nigeria at such a time as this?

Ogaga Ifowodo: By trying, as much as possible, to be the conscience of an increasingly cold and calculating society; to help a brutalised and disheartened people regain their heart; to be, in short, a voice for freedom, democracy and responsible citizenship. It is all clichéd by now, but remains true. But these are enormous tasks, mostly realisable through political means, by which I mean activism. I don’t expect Nigerian writers to become political agitators or pamphleteers in their imaginative writing, but if they are conscious of their past and present and engage with the real human problems confronting us as a people, they will have done their bit. This, at a minimum, requires that Nigerian writers, as writers anywhere, be willing to slip a stone in the sling of their prose or poetry. How this can be done without profaning the forms of literature is not for anyone to say—that is the province of the individual writer’s genius. And, oh, they should run for office—from the school board to the local government council, state government house, to the legislature and the presidency. Why not poets as presidents? Government, you will agree, is too serious to be left to politicians. The late Congolese poet, Tchicaya U Tam’si, whom I admire a lot, said his one reproach of Christ was for having “as teachers, popes and priests without shame.” Then queried, “Why the popes and not me, the priests and not the laymen, you, me all the others who dream in the pit of volcanoes?” Need I say politicians without shame? I think Nigerian writers should bring that thinking to politics which ought to be the highest calling of civic life.


Additional questions by Sola Osofisan

Naza Amaeze Okoli
Naza Amaeze Okoli
Naza Amaeze Okoli, PhD, is Assistant Professor of African American Literature at Eastern Kentucky University. He received his PhD in English from the University of Mississippi in 2022, and was most recently a postdoctoral fellow in the School of Literature, Media and Communication at Georgia Institute of Technology. He is co-editor of Footmarks: Poems on One Hundred Years of Nigeria’s Nationhood. Twitter/X: @nazaokoli

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